A GAO report revealed thousands of allegations of abuse, neglect & sometimes death at residential treatment programs across the country; Programs continue to operate with little or no federal oversight

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today introduced legislation to end abuse, neglect, and sexual assault at teen residential treatment programs and “boot camps” across the country. The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act mandates that all boot camp and residential treatment programs uphold commonsense safety standards to protect teens from physical, mental, and sexual abuse. The bill would also strengthen reporting standards and make it easier for parents to access information about the safety records of programs. 

“We can no longer ignore the horrific stories of abuse and assault. These are kids who supposed to be getting help, but are instead deprived of food, put in isolation, or refused medical care,” said Murphy. “Residential treatment programs should be held to the same safety and accountability standards as all other health and education programs, and it’s up to Congress to make sure that happens. The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act will finally put an end to the cruel and fraudulent actions of too many residential treatment programs and help families across the country make more informed decisions when looking to help their children.”

“The reports of abuse, neglect and assault at residential treatment programs the GAO found are staggering and cannot go ignored,” said Gillibrand. “No child should ever have to face abuse, especially at a program meant to help them. This legislation will provide needed federal oversight of residential facilities, help protect teens from abuse, and help parents get access to the information they need about these programs.”

Feinstein said, “Child abuse should not be tolerated under any circumstance.  This legislation would require programs serving youth to provide basic necessities and treat them with dignity.  The abuse documented by the Government Accountability Office, including food and water deprivation, is appalling and our bill would ensure young people are protected.”  

report by the Government Accountability Office revealed thousands of allegations of child abuse, neglect, and death at residential treatment programs between 1990 and 2007. Despite the fact that some of these programs receive federal funding, they continue to operate with little or no federal oversight. Abuses involved the excessive use of physical restraints, severe methods of intimidation, starvation, and neglectful medical practices. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender youth are particularly at risk at some residential treatment programs, which advertise services for “gay conversion therapy” – a practice that is widely discredited. 

The Murphy-Gillibrand-Feinstein Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act would: 

  • Prohibit the withholding of essential food, water, clothing, shelter, or medical care to children in the program’s care;
  • Prohibit physical or mental abuse and establish civil penalties;
  • Set minimum standards for operators and ensure employee competency in recognizing and providing assistance during medical emergencies;
  • Strengthen reporting standards and improve the collection of data regarding substantiated child abuse allegations; and
  • Make it easier for parents to view the records of residential facilities so that they can make the best decision for their child.

Murphy previously introduced the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act in the Senate in 2014.